Schoolchildren will learn about unspeakable violence just days before the series' likely triumph at the Emmys
Martin Sheen, The West Wing

Details of Aaron Sorkin’s special episode of ”The West Wing” — planned in light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on America — are emerging. Sources tell that the Oct. 3 hour (NBC; 9:00 p.m.) will show the staffers addressing a group of schoolchildren (who are touring the White House) to help them understand an unspecified act of violence that has recently occurred in the country. It’s unclear whether the act will be referred to as a terrorist attack. (An NBC spokeswoman declined comment.)

The episode — penned by Sorkin in a matter of days — is considered a stand-alone and will not affect the season premiere scheduled for the following Wednesday. While NBC entertainment president Jeff Zucker won’t discuss the specifics of the Oct. 3 episode, he says ”The West Wing” is ”uniquely positioned” to reflect on the terrorist attack. ”Obviously it’s fictional, and it can never deal with the severity that the current administration is dealing with,” Zucker tells ”But given that it takes place at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, it’s not far fetched to believe ‘West Wing’ could deal with this issue.”

Zucker stresses that the episode won’t be exploitative or insensitive: ”There’s nobody else who can pull this off like Aaron Sorkin. He had something he wanted to say. It’s incredibly important and it’ll cause people to do a lot of thinking.”

The special episode will air just four days before the 53rd Annual Emmys, where pundits are predicting that ”The West Wing” will take honors in the Best Drama, Best Actor (Martin Sheen), and Best Supporting Actor categories (Bradley Whitford). Ironically, Sheen has reportedly threatened to boycott the Emmy ceremony for fear it may appear insensitive in light of recent events. But the fact that the TV Academy is planning a more somber affair — formalwear has been banned and Walter Cronkite will give an opening statement — could prompt Sheen to change his mind.

Emmy historian Tom O’Neil, who’s predicting a big night for ”West Wing,” hopes to see Sheen at the Emmys. ”The star who plays America’s commander-in-chief needs to be there to preside over what could be a historic night,” explains O’Neil. ”Next Sunday night, Hollywood will be saluting this White House series exactly at a time that America is turning to its own White House for leadership. The show and Sheen will look more real than ever.”

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